Animal Stories

Recently, we’ve learned that chimpanzees stockpile weapons in anticipation of future attacks. We’ve discovered that they not only use tools, but modify them to make them better. But macaques teaching their infants to floss?

“Female monkeys in Thailand have been observed showing their young how to floss their teeth –using human hair.

Researchers from Japan said they watched seven long-tailed macaques cleaning the spaces between their teeth in the same manner as humans.

They spent double the amount of time flossing when they were being watched by their infants, the team said.

This suggests the mothers were deliberately teaching their young how to floss, Professor Nobuo Masataka of Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute said.”

You should definitely click the link and watch the video — at least, if the idea of watching a long-tailed macaque floss interests you in the slightest.


While I’m on the subject: here’s a wonderful anecdote about Alex the African Gray Parrot. Irene Pepperberg, the researcher who worked with Alex, had been training him to sound out phonemes, in the hopes that eventually she might be able to teach him to spell:

“Alex had already made progress on this task. If shown a tray of plastic letters, the kind parents affix to a refrigerator door to stimulate their kids’ alphabet learning, he responded correctly to questions. Shown an array of letters that included, say, a red “Ch,” a green “N,” and a blue “S,” and so on, when asked, “What sound is blue?,” Alex answered “Ssss…”

That day, some of MIT’s corporate sponsors had flocked to watch Alex do a demo. Alex answered a phoneme question correctly, but then piped up with “Want a nut.” Like students everywhere, Alex liked a good snack now and again, and to push his luck with his teachers.

Wanting to keep him on task, Irene pressed Alex with another question, and got the correct answer and immediately, another “Want a nut.” A third Q&A round followed, but this time Alex underscored the seriousness of his craving with the avian equivalent of italics: “Want a nut.”

At this point, Pepperberg writes, Alex “became very slitty-eyed, always a sign he was up to something.” He looked at her and slowly said, “Want a nut. Nnn…uh…tuh.””

Teaching Alex that the phonemes went together to form words was supposed to be the next step, the one they hadn’t gotten to yet. But no one told Alex that.

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